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Monday, July 29, 2019

Esprit de corps

Esprit de corps. Some might say “team spirit.” A more well-defined expression is that “feeling of pride, fellowship, and common loyalty shared by the members of a particular group.”

Last week, my wife Rhonda and I saw it in action. Big time. It was displayed by the close to 500 people gathered at the Hilton Hotel in Northbrook for the 8th Annual K-9 Comfort Dog Conference. I can’t recall being in a group where the mission was more clear, the heart for service was more evident, and the commitment to four core values any deeper. And I’ve been around the block for a while.

Tim Hetzner is the visionary and CEO of Lutheran Church Charities (LCC). They have two primary service aspects to the ministry. One is the 130 golden retrievers trained as comfort dogs that reside in 26 states and are deployed upon request through Lutheran churches across the country. The dogs go into schools, hospitals, retirement homes, and places where encouragement from an accepting friend is welcome.

The second important work of LCC is disaster and crisis response. Teams of volunteers will go to areas of devastation and help in ways most needed. It might be clearing away brush or damage. It might be rebuilding efforts of some kind. Often it includes some financial assistance.

The canines’ more demanding assignments are in the midst of these tragedies. Dogs are deployed following school shootings or a marathon bombing like in Boston. Vicious storms like tornadoes and hurricanes. Name the disaster, and a comfort dog has likely shown up with a handler to be available to those hurting. (See my blog from last week for more details.)

These twin service areas are derived from the four clear core values of LCC:

  1. Mercy
  2. Compassion
  3. Presence
  4. Proclamation of Jesus Christ to those who are suffering and in need

At the start of the conference, the trainers and handlers, those who house dogs and a bevy of volunteers, were all gathered together. CEO Hetzner asked the group, “Why do we exist?” Resoundingly, everyone can cite those four core values. Not in a bland, almost mindless corporate recitation, but rather enthusiastically affirming their commitment. It sounds almost silly to say, but they BELIEVE this stuff!

Over three days, I was able to interview approximately 25 of these service-minded people. To a person, Rhonda and I witnessed an unparalleled amount of joy and selflessness in their commitment. Beyond that, they have built a bond of friendship and loyalty to one another. And unbelievable esprit de corps.

The intriguing aspect of the K-9 Comfort Dog ministry to me is that it’s the animals that bring this team together! The mission is fed off the total acceptance of those golden retrievers. I think we met most of the 100 sweet pooches attending.

All who are deployed with the dogs are trained to become good listeners. It might be said that the skill of good listening is a fifth LCC value. You could not miss this message.

One of the keynote speakers was Eric Maddox. Eric served for ten years in the US Army as a Ranger and paratrooper. He then transferred to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) as an interrogator. His work took him to Iraq, and he contributed significantly to the capture of Saddam Hussein.

Eric’s presentation detailed the frustrations of interviewing prisoner after prisoner without getting the information needed to track down the most wanted. Then...he decided to become a listener. And, more than that, to become an empathetic listener. The game changed almost immediately. Information came willingly. And it surprised many who thought it couldn’t be that simple.

After Eric’s talk, I began to think about the interactions of Jesus of Nazareth. Yes, He did go from town to town preaching. But His one-on-one interaction took Him to situations where the deepest questions and hurts found His attention. And He was never too busy to help.

His disciples, save one, got the message. Their lives were bonded together for life in sharing the eternal message of Good News.

Talk about esprit de corps!

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Watch for a new YouTube program and podcast with Mark Elfstrand beginning in late summer.

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Monday, July 22, 2019

Assignment from God

That’s quite a bold thought — is it not? That someone would claim they are on an “assignment from God!” We should be careful with such talk.

Almost 28 years ago, my perspective on work made a dramatic change. My soul moved from a resistance to doing “ministry” work to an open handed response to pursue whatever kind of assignment God might give me. Even ministry.

Shortly thereafter, I was offered a talk show job by a major Christian communications company. It was a great fit and offered a ministry focus. It lasted seven years. After a two month break, another ministry “assignment” opportunity surfaced. This one in Chicago in a similar kind of work on radio. It lasted over 14 years.

At the end of that run, God gave me a bit of a respite of several months before another ministry “assignment’ door opened. This one lasted 4 and 1/2 years. It ended in January 2019.

The blessing of unemployment compensation, along with reaching the age of Social Security payments, provided during this break. As that unemployment season ended, two new ministry opportunities were presented. My schedule would allow me to do both assignments.

One began last week. A second officially commences this week as I work alongside the ministry of Lutheran Church Charities. This group does several things, but their hallmark outreach is the K-9 Comfort Dog ministry. I’ll share the description from their website:

“Launched in August 2008, the Lutheran Church Charities (LCC) K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry is a national human-care ministry embracing the unique, calming nature and skills of purebred Golden Retrievers. The LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs and handlers, Kare 9 Military Ministry Dogs and veteran handlers, and LCC K-9 Police Ministry Dogs and law enforcement officer handlers are a bridge for compassionate ministry, opening doors for conversation about faith and creating opportunities to share the Mercy, Compassion, Presence and Proclamation of Jesus Christ.

All the LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs are working animals. They’ve been trained to interact with people of all ages and circumstances who are suffering and in need. The dogs participate in scheduled and special events. Dogs are permanently placed with churches, schools, and other ministries involved in Christian human care by LCC.”

Beginning Wednesday of this week, LCC will host its 8th Annual K-9 National Conference. Approximately 100 Golden Retrievers from over twenty-five states will be on hand. A special “meet and greet” with the dogs will take place the night of July 24th at the Hilton Chicago/Northbrook.

Those registered for the conference will come together to learn more about the ways to reach a lost, hurting, and confused world. I am privileged to be interviewing a number of the speakers at this event. In fact, I have my own speaking session.

My longer term affiliation with LCC is about producing a new YouTube program. The title will be Moving People Forward. It will consist of an interview format with guests who will offer insights into everyday problems or challenges we face in this world. LCC will be the sponsor. I will host each program. The first episode to release should be late in August or early September.

It’s quite an opportunity. Or should I say…”assignment.” It may seem to some like my career has gone to the dogs.

Frankly, many a life could admit being tracked by the “Hound of Heaven.” The classic poem by that title from Francis Thompson has been described in this way: “As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and imperturbed pace, so does God follow the fleeing soul by His Divine grace.”

I felt that sense of a God pursuit in the summer of 1991. It has inspired me ever since. And given me a real sense of God’s personal calling.

How about you?

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Watch for a new YouTube program and podcast with Mark Elfstrand beginning in late summer.

For more information:

Monday, July 15, 2019

Jesus on the Job

During the month of June, more than 700 Christian leaders from 109 nations attended the Global Workplace Forum in Manila. The event was sponsored by the Lausanne Movement. This group Lausanne has over 30 “issue networks” diverse in nature and “led by Lausanne catalysts and centered around a pressing missional opportunity or challenge.”

Some of the mission topics of the smaller groups of influencers include The Gospel and Culture, Children at Risk, and Business as Mission. At the June gathering, one discussion topic drew significant disagreement among some ministry “experts.” The question centered around evangelism in the workplace as a priority.

The summary article of responses to the question can be found in the Christianity Today article, “Should Evangelism Be the Highest Priority of Christians at Work?” (link below) I will take the liberty of removing my own “pull quotes” from various responses.

The first is from a missiologist named Gea Gort. That term, “missiologist” may need explanation. My friend Ed Stetzer says, “At the most basic level, a missiologist is a specialist who studies and is trained in the science of missions…Missiology is accomplished at the intersection of gospel, culture, and the church.”

Gea Gort responded to the evangelism question, YES! In her view, “Because each Christian, having inherited the ‘DNA' of our Lord Jesus Christ, has a mission of reconciling the world—in and through Christ—back to God’s original intent.”

Joseph Vijayam is the CEO of Olive Technology and Lausanne’s Catalyst for Technology. He agrees. “Workplace ministry is about sharing the gospel in word and deed—which is evangelism—but it is also about living a life that bears witness to the fruit of the gospel. In other words, it is both intentional evangelism, which is the ‘doing,' as well as the unintentional living, which is the ‘being.’”

Francis Tsui is president of an investment firm in Hong Kong. He adds, “We likewise should be proclaiming the good news to these people in our workplace. The purpose of the good news being proclaimed is to bring about the presence of Jesus to whatever circumstances people might be in, so that people may meet Jesus where they are and experience the compassion, the love, and the relevance of Jesus in their contexts.”

Willy Kotiuga, chair of Bakke Graduate University board of regents, disagrees. “People come to Christ when they feel loved, not lectured!”

Jerry White, international president emeritus of The Navigators stated, "My answer to this provocative question is an emphatic ‘no…’ Work is more than a platform for evangelism and discipleship. Rather, it is part of God’s grand plan for believers and not-yet believers…a believer’s work displays the light of Christ and becomes the natural pathway for the gospel.”

Now it’s my turn. I’m in the “no”camp. And here’s why.

Whether as an employer who follows Christ or can’t stand the thought of God, my work priority to to manage a business for profit. Decisions are made to that end. I don’t hire people to come to work as evangelists for ANY cause. I hire them because they are talented and can do the job.

So as an employee, your FIRST priority should be to honor your employer with diligence. The apostle Paul said, “Slaves are to submit themselves to their masters and please them in all things. They must not talk back to them or steal from them. Instead, they must show that they are always good and faithful, so as to bring credit to the teaching about God our Savior in all they do.” (Titus 2:9-10, GNT)

Okay, “slave" is a tough word. But Paul’s point is well taken. Do your work. Do it honorably. Shine. And let God do His. He will open the doors as He wills.

That’s how we show Jesus on the job.

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook. 

Monday, July 8, 2019

Going into the Closet

I strongly dislike the open office concept. Okay, I actually hate it. I’ve tried it. I even had a modified version of it with a business I started in the 1980s. One of the company employees had an office. Me.

You can easily find people who make the case for and against the open office design. The strongest advocates are usually the companies that sell divider panels. I wonder how many of THEIR people work in cubicles?

I like Bill Burr’s line: “You know what a cubicle basically says? It basically says, like, 'You know what? We don't think you're smart enough for an office, but we don't want you to look at anybody.’”

Maybe some jobs thrive in an open office. These people feed off of others' creativity and enthusiasm. For me, the most distracted I’ve ever been in the office is one without borders. I’d almost prefer a small closet. Even without windows.

The Gen Z crowd is learning about this need for privacy. Check out this recent Chicago Tribune story, “Hate the open office? Think it’s too loud? Enter the ‘phone booth.’” Gen Z folk are those born between 1996 and 2010.

Workspace designers have learned that these younger workers prefer a little order in their private world. The Trib reports, “The open-office concept was heralded as a way to lower costs and promote interaction and collaboration among employees throughout organizations. But a study last year by Harvard University researchers found, among other things, that workers miss their privacy.”

Okay, so these designers didn’t exactly do away with open offices. Instead, they’ve chosen to insulate sound and offer employees a quiet space for a phone call or more work-related focus. Welcome to…the “phone booth.”

These private spaces are tall. They are narrow. You might like the design with glass only on one side. Or, if you prefer a fishbowl-like experience, go with the all-glass model.

How about amenities? There is a place to sit, and a countertop. Fortunately, ventilation is built in along with power outlets and a light. There is no built-in phone. but who needs one in the smartphone era? And unless you’re Superman, do not change clothes in the “phone booth.” Why scare off your coworkers?

Chicago’s Merchandise Mart recently gave interested parties a chance to test drive a few models at the annual commercial interior design show, NeoCon. (No, this is not some new conservative movement.) NeoCon’s claim to fame is “the commercial design industry’s launch pad for innovation—offering ideas and introductions that shape the built environment today and into the future.”

One of the vendors, Brian Chen, is co-founder and CEO of one of the phone booth design companies named Room. Says he, “We are definitely noticing that companies are seeing a big mistake in putting all sorts of different activities in one single floor plan. That is a recipe for people being stressed or unhappy in the office.”

Room started operations in the spring of 2018. To date, more than 1,500 companies have invested in their phone booth designs, which sell for about $3,500 a piece. They project sales of around $30 million in 2019. Let’s just say the market temperature for Room phone booths is getting “hot.” Okay, let’s not.

If I were working in a place with a “phone booth,” I might be prone to reserve the space for my spiritual quiet time. Forget doing that in the noisy part of the open office.

Jesus himself needed quiet time. Apparently, a lot of it. He purposed to steal away time from the incessant crowds. The Gospel writer Luke records, “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16, NIV)

The phone booth is not a perfect solution for privacy. Especially if you’re claustrophobic. Or have other “hang-ups.” (Did I really say that??)

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Watch for a new YouTube program and podcast with Mark Elfstrand beginning in late summer.

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Monday, July 1, 2019

Dollars and Sense

On June 25th, the New York Times featured a story titled, “What a ‘Living Wage’ Actually Means.” I was interested to learn how they would define the terms and the pay rates. There is a never-ending political push for higher minimum wages. I guess the intent is to move people toward that “living wage” objective.

My views on the amount of money needed to live on have been shaped by some key discoveries along life’s journey. One of the most impactful lessons came from a class I audited for a college journalism assignment many years ago. In my six years of writing this blog, I am sure I’ve mentioned it along the way.

The class was titled something like, “How to Get Rich.” Obviously, a LOT of night school students signed up for this one. The instructor was outlining a reality that he had experienced—that he doubted most of the class was willing to follow his path.

He started with an average monthly amount of money for these daytime working students. I think it was in the $900-$1000 ballpark. He quickly showed how it was “impossible” to live on this relatively meager amount of money and become wealthy. Rent, an auto payment and insurance, clothing, food bills, and utilities alone would eat up the majority of the money—leaving little room for entertainment.

But then the instructor became radical. He explained how you could not only significantly reduce rent, but eliminate it in some cases as an apartment “manager.” He explained that if you moved closer to where you work, you could get rid of the car and start using a bike. Next, join a food co-op. Shop for clothes at thrift stores. And study ways to reduce your utility bills. Now…you have spending income to invest.

Invest? In what? For him, it meant saving up for several months and then purchasing a duplex. Rent out the other half and most of the house payment would be paid by your renter. Successfully achieving this, he bought a second duplex. Then a third. Et cetera. Not long after, he quit his “day job” to become a full time property management expert. A quite wealthy one at that.

His prediction was that 95% of the people in the class were unwilling to make these life changes to pursue their dream of financial independence. I’m sure he was right. For starters, I didn’t do it.

The second wise life lesson on this subject came from an attorney friend. Annually, he would take a group of young teen boys on a camping trip. To get them motivated on a project, he promised to explain to them how to become rich. Over the evening campfire, my friend would get the boys to agree that being rich meant having everything you want. The solution, therefore, is simple. Reduce your wants.

Once again, who wants to do that?! This is why I believe trying to clearly identify a “living wage” is futile. And the New York Times story I cited found it highly complicated.

Federal poverty guidelines track with the minimum wage. Thus the calculation that “a two-person household with a total annual income below $16,910 is considered to be living in poverty.” To get above the poverty line, one person would need to make at least $8.13 an hour. Seventeen states have minimum wages higher than that.

New York City has a $15-per-hour minimum wage creating an annual income of $31,200—almost twice the federal poverty level for a household of two.

The Times writer concludes, “Anyone living in New York City can tell you how laughably low $32,000 per year is for a single-income household.”

Want to help people? Here’s my two-fold solution. First, reward free enterprise for creating LOTS of new jobs. Full employment means competition for quality workers. And you have to pay decently to get them. Second, teach sound wisdom on money management.

But don’t just simply give money. As the writer of Proverbs correctly guides us, “Why should a fool have money in his hand to buy wisdom when he has no sense?” (Proverbs 17:16, ESV)

You need dollars. And sense.

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